Volume V, Number 1, Spring 2009

"Samson as a Moses-figure in Cecil B. DeMille’s Samson and Delilah (1949)" by Anton Karl Kozlovic

Dr. Anton Karl Kozlovic is a research associate in the Department of Screen Studies, Flinders University (Adelaide, Australia) and is interested in religion-and-film, DeMille studies, interreligious dialogue, and the New Age. He has published over 100 articles and book chapters in over 50 different academic journals. E-mail:

Introduction: The Birth of a Hollywood Legend and a Holy Genre

As a cofounder of Hollywood and a progenitor of Paramount studio, Cecil B. DeMille1 (1881-1959) became a legendary mega-star of the US cinema during its Golden Age as well as the archetypal image of a film director. Not only did this unsung American auteur help turn an obscure Californian orange grove into a movie centre that became the synonym for filmmaking worldwide, but he also successfully survived the genesis of a billion dollar industry, the challenge of sound films, the arrival of Technicolor, changing public tastes, the Great Depression, two World Wars, shifting demographics, volatile fads, Communist hysteria, the arrival of television, cut-throat competitors and numerous Hollywood crises that threatened its commercial viability if not its very existence (Birchard 2004; Cherchi Usai & Codelli 1991; DeMille & Hayne 1960; Edwards 1988; Essoe & Lee 1970; Higashi 1985, 1994; Higham 1973; Koury 1959; Louvish 2008; Noerdlinger 1956; Orrison 1999; Ringgold & Bodeen 1969).

In due course, DeMille became the “high priest of the religious genre” (Holloway 1977, 26) and the undisputed “King of the epic Biblical spectacular” (Finler 1985, 32) with such indelible classics as The Ten Commandments (1923), The King of Kings (1927), Samson and Delilah (1949) and The Ten Commandments (1956), all of which were watershed films in their respective days and the very public expression of DeMille’s private Episcopalian faith. Indeed, not only was DeMille “a genuinely and deeply religious man” (Butler 1987, 144), but as he proudly claimed near the end of his life: “my ministry was making religious movies and getting more people to read the Bible than anyone else ever has” (Orrison 1999, 108). He achieved that goal magnificently having become “virtually the Sunday school teacher for the [American] nation” (Beck 2005, 27), or as one anonymous Protestant church leader put it: “The first century had its Apostle Paul, the thirteenth century had St. Francis, the sixteenth had Martin Luther and the twentieth has Cecil B. DeMille” (Manfull 1970, 357).

DeMille: Hollywood’s Best Know Unknown

Despite his phenomenal public success as a pop culture professional who made millions for Paramount’s purse, or his impressive artistic achievements and numerous industry accolades (see Essoe & Lee 1970, 245-247), DeMille was frequently ignored, derided or dismissed by the critics. For example, it was claimed that he was “a third-rate purveyor of historically distorted, paper-doll epics” (Trent 1975, 172) and “a thoroughly pedestrian director” (Preston Sturges in Jacobs 1992, 180) who made films that were “generally superficial and…added nothing to film art” (Wexman 2006, 83). DeMille supposedly “had no particular talent” (Manchel 1971, 47) being just a “showman rather than a director” (Eyles 1967, 45), and thus it was believed that: “Inspirationally and imaginatively, CB was sterile. His stories, situations and characters were, almost without exception, unintelligent, unintuitive, and psychologically adolescent” (Norman Bel Geddes quoted in Green 1997, 191). Genre-wise, Giannetti and Eyman (1996, 40) noted that: “It is no longer fashionable to admire De Mille,” David Thomson (1995, 182) considered DeMille to be “silliest in his biblical and Roman films” whilst Barry Norman (1985, 182) argued that Samson and Delilah “was certainly the worst and most absurd of all his films in that genre.” However, these derogatory views are born of the lack of awareness of DeMille’s true aesthetic achievements and are thus firmly rejected.

Even more regrettable is that serious film scholarship has only just begun to scratch the surface of DeMille studies (Higashi, 1994), and even less academic effort has been devoted to revealing all his cinematic secrets, let alone those pertaining to Samson and Delilah, although this is slowly changing (Kozlovic 2002a, 2002b, 2003, 2006a, 2006b, 2006c, 2007, 2008). “Of all the great Hollywood pioneers, Cecil B. DeMille has been the one most commonly neglected and slighted, his importance marginalized” (Welsh 2004, 317), or as Eric Smoodin (2000, 251) lamented: “De Mille rarely receives the serious academic recognition and study that he deserves” thus perpetuating his status as “Hollywood’s best known unknown” (Arthur 1970, 283). Much more scholarly work is needed before the full range of his aesthetic talents can be completely revealed and appreciated. As soon as one goes beyond the knee-jerk wisecracks and the traditional hate-DeMille hype, a wealth of innovative filmmaking practices and narrative strategies will be found that set him apart from other directors, established his unique auteur style, and made his Bible movies so unforgettable that they are still lovingly remembered decades after his death. As Simon Louvish (2008, xvii) put it: “[DeMille] was the complete master and auteur of his films… For such an auteur, of such world-wide renown, the ignorance with regard to his best work must surely be considered peculiar, if not astounding.” The following explication is an introductory attempt to begin remedying that shocking scholarly deficiency in American Studies.

The Significance of Samson and Delilah (1949)

DeMille’s page-to-projector adaptation of the Samson saga based upon Judges 13-162 was a “watershed film” (Schatz 1997, 394) “which set the pattern for the post-war cycle” (Eldridge 2006, 145), reinvigorated the then-moribund genre and triggered the 1950-60s rash of Hollywood Bible films. As Jon Solomon (2001, 175) argued: “For all their contrivances, DeMille’s parting of the Red Sea in 1956 The Ten Commandments and his Samsonian destruction of the temple of Dagon [in 1949 Samson and Delilah]…will be remembered as the most representative and iconographical Old Testament depictions of the twentieth century.” Nowadays, “televised DeMille is essentially the Bible for the TV generation” (Brode 1995, 68), whilst Samson and Delilah’s reputation has “stabalized into one of camp respectability” (Murphy 1999, 109-110) that is increasingly admired by Scripture scholars as a significant cine-text that changed popular perceptions of the Bible, religion and American culture in general. For example, as J. C. McCann (2002, 92) put it: “The last and probably best known of the judges is Samson, although most people’s knowledge of Samson is limited to his relationship with Delilah (16:4-31); and the source of people’s knowledge is as likely to be Cecil B. DeMille’s film Samson and Delilah as it is the biblical text. Samson’s story contains all the features that make for a top-rated movie—excessive violence, romance and sex, and R-rated humor. No wonder it attracted DeMille!” Similarly, as David Jasper (1999) claimed:

In the Hollywood tradition of Old Testament epics…the cinema has occasionally contributed in a significant way to the history of biblical interpretations, perhaps unwittingly and most notably in the figure of Cecil B. De Mille in films like Samson and Delilah (1949) and The Ten Commandments (1956)… [DeMille] re-reads the text of the Book of Judges midraschically as a love story which shifts the coherent and dehumanizing biblical perspective of Israel’s salvation history and replaces it with a countercoherence of a Delilah following her heart and remaining true to Samson… (51).

Indeed, Jasper (1999) considered DeMille’s romantic repackaging of Holy Writ to be a major service to mainstream biblical scholarship. He claimed that

De Mille’s film [Samson and Delilah] does what art and literature has always in fact done, read the Bible and unpicked its historical and theological consistencies which have defined how religious orthodoxy has read it, and offered a countercoherence in terms of other priorities (in this case filmic melodrama) which may expose the dangerous assumptions that often underlie our reading of Scripture and the Bible… (51-52).

As J. Cheryl Exum (2002, 255) enthusiastically proclaimed about this cinematic Samson saga, it was “a masterpiece of biblical film making (it gets better after repeated viewings); the 1949 film sparkles in spite of its age, with memorable dialogue and impressive overacting.” It also

offers a good example of cinematic impact on the culture at large. It is not a little-known film; I have seen it at least four times on television in the UK in the past three years. With the kind of promotion television offers, De Mille’s Oscar-winning epic has certainly reached more audiences than when it was first released, and through repeated television showings it continues to be influential in forming people’s opinions about the biblical story. For all its hokeyness Samson and Delilah is a brilliant film (Exum 1996, 13).

Cecil and Sacred Subtexts

Part of DeMille’s brilliance was rooted in his deployment of sacred subtexts—one of the many signature trademarks of this “auteur of auteurs” (Vidal 1995, 303) that helped elevate his Bible films into the realms of genre greatness. But what exactly are they and how do they work? Sacred subtexts (aka holy subtexts; divine infranarratives) have been described as “anonymous religiousness” (Gallagher 1997, 151) or the pursuit of “overtly religious themes in a secular ‘wrapper’” (Ellis 2001, 304). Traditionally speaking, they are usually hidden religious figurations built into ostensibly secular films. Sacred subtexts exist because narratives can have a dual nature, namely, an overt plot plus a covert storyline of varying complexity that is comparable to the metaphorical or symbolic within literature. As Bernard F. Dick (1998, 129) described this relationship: “the narrative and infranarrative (or text and subtext) are not two separate entities (there is, after all, only one film); think of them, rather, as two concentric circles, the infranarrative being within the narrative.” Therefore, secular feature films can engage in religious storytelling without necessarily appearing “religious,” yet, these covert sacred figurations are not limited to secular films. They can just as easily be crafted inside overtly religious films, albeit, they are harder to detect if not attuned to their existence, structural characteristics (Kozlovic 2004), and overlapping, intertextual nuances. This is exactly what DeMille did when he constructed his cinematic Samson as a Moses-figure.

Utilising humanist film criticism as the guiding analytical lens (i.e., examining the textual world inside the frame, but not the world outside the frame—Bywater & Sobchack 1989, chapter 2), the critical DeMille, film and religion literature was selectively reviewed and integrated into the text to enhance narrative coherence (albeit, with a strong reportage flavour). This was followed by a close examination of Samson and Delilah to reveal DeMille’s deft construction of Samson. But first, one needs to review the scriptural account of this infamous judge of Israel to understand DeMille’s need for his subtextual holy enhancement strategy.

The Scriptural Samson: A Biblical Bad Boy

In the popular consciousness, Samson is considered a heroic holy-man because of his divine selection, angelic heralding and incredible physical prowess; backed–up by his fleeting mention in the New Testament (NT) list of God’s faithful (Heb. 11:32). However, his exploits as recorded within the Old Testament (OT) show that he is a massive disappointment and essentially a looser par excellence. He repeatedly failed as a spiritual leader, religious practitioner, prophesier, military commander, or honourable role-model for his Israelite kinsmen. For example, Samson religiously compromised his parents (Judg. 14:8-9), bossed them around (Judg. 14:2, 3), disobeyed his people’s endogamy traditions (Judg. 14:2-3), and did not keep his divinely specified Nazarite purity vows (Judg. 13:4-5; Num. 6:1-21). He killed Philistines unreasonably (Judg. 14:19; 15:8), as opposed to reasonably (Judg. 15:14-16; 16:21-30), he stole from innocent citizens (Judg. 14:19), gloated (Judg. 15:16), and was a malicious arsonist who destroyed the property of innocent others (Judg. 15:5). He was cruel to animals (Judg. 14:6; 15:4), lied on multiple occasions (Judg. 16:7, 11, 13), vandalised city gates (Judg. 16:2-3), and prayed solely for personal vengeance (Judg. 16:28), not for humble or holy reasons before his suicidal demolition of the temple of Dagon and its doomed devotees (Judg. 16: 25-30). Consequently, “Samson the renegade Israelite” (Ryan 2007, 126) was justifiably tagged by biblical scholars as “a bully boy” (Vickery 1981, 61), “a rather mean-spirited, biblical Paul Bunyan” (Higgs 2000, 113), and “an Israelite gangster captain” (Simon 1981, 157).

If this disreputable behaviour was not disappointing enough for a chosen emissary of God, Samson was also a sexual suspect and recidivist who pursued three scandalous amatory adventures with religiously undesirable woman, namely: a) the unnamed woman from Timnath (Judg. 14:1-3), b) the unnamed harlot of Gaza (Judg. 16:1), and c) the infamous Delilah of Sorek (Judg. 16:4-21), thus tagging the Samson saga as “the story of sexy stories…always an entertaining and sacred scandal sheet” (Wurtzel 1998, 38). In tragic due course, this he-man with a she-problem failed as a suitor, lover, husband, father and was repeatedly humiliated, outwitted and betrayed by family, friends and foe alike. Nor was his reputation for intelligence enhanced when he “voluntarily” revealed the hair-based secret of his phenomenal strength to the duplicitous Delilah (Judg. 16:16-17). Particularly after making the same inappropriate disclosure mistake by revealing the answer to his unbeatable honey-and-lion riddle to his Timnath wife-to-be who promptly relayed it to his baffled Philistine enemies (Judg. 14:17), thus instantly loosing his sure bet (Judg. 14:18) and generating multiple disasters for all concerned thereafter.

Not surprisingly, Samson’s bad behaviours resulted in Scripture scholars out-doing each other with many “negative evaluations…heaped upon his character” (Ryan 2007, 105), for example, calling him “a fool” (Ackerman 2000, 34), a “witless lout” (Ackerman 2000, 35), “Samson, the dodo” (Bledstein 1993, 49), “the most foolish champion Israel ever had” (Williams 1993, 45), and “perhaps the greatest jackass in the Bible” (Bledstein 1993, 48). Other scholars claimed that he was “incredibly stupid” (Leneman 2000, 148), “a jerk” (Mary Cartledge-Hayes in Bellis 1994, 125), “dense” (Higgs 2000, 120), “all brawn, little brain” (Bledstein 1993, 50), “a model of bad male behavior” (Streete 1997, 52) and the “emblem of brute strength, physical desire, and foolish love” (Mobley 2005, 173). Overall, his life was a slow, downward spiral of degradation that had an astonishingly promising start and a spectacularly devastating end, whereas the Samson saga traditionally preached in pulpits concerns a hero with superhuman strength betrayed by a sexy wily woman.

DeMille-the-Christian-apologist3 was certainly aware of the theological tradition of reading Delilah as duplicitous and “Samson as a tragic spiritual hero, such as we find in the work of Josephus and in the letter to the Hebrews (11.32-33)” (Jost 1999, 122). Indeed,

[t]hrough the technology of motion pictures, Samson has evolved into a hero that twentieth century audiences can identify with. The Samson of the movies is strong, brave, and handsome. He is kind to his people and faithful to his God, although he is still subject to weakness at the hands of a lusty female. He is as intelligent as he is crafty. Furthermore, he refuses to escape death even when given the opportunity to do so. This behaviour distinguishes him from his biblical counterpart and aligns him more closely with Milton’s tragic figure. To be sure, the celluloid Samson is a far cry from the brawny, folkloric character from the book of Judges. He is the product of a modern society who both expects and demands the consummate hero (Bartholome 1990, 144).

Both DeMille-the-pop-culture-professional and DeMille-the-businessman submitted to the same public pressure regarding his cinematic Samson, whilst DeMille-the-freedom-loving-American-patriot had “us look upon Samson as a sort of liberal rebel, a Resistance leader fighting a Philistine Gestapo” (Harcourt-Smith 1951, 412), whilst simultaneously getting the essence of the scriptural Samson right. As Geoghegan and Homan (2003, 136) admiringly reported: “The lead role in Samson and Delilah (1949) is brilliantly played by the larger-than-life Victor Mature. He could lift heavy objects, and when it came to acting like he couldn’t pronounce words exceeding three syllables, well, let’s just say that he had us all fooled. And this is exactly how the Bible portrays Samson: stronger than an ox, but not the sharpest tool in the Israelite shed.”

In short, DeMille got it right, but his biblical artistry did not stop here. Given the scriptural Samson’s negative reputation as a biblical bozo, the paying publics’ preference for lovable rogues and anti-heroes, plus the lay congregation’s popular conception of (and demand for) a saintly man of God, DeMille-the-harmoniser continued this positive cultural trajectory and mitigated Samson’s negative reputation by subtextually engineering him as a rustic NT Christ-figure (Kozlovic, 2003). However, to further enhance Samson’s holy resonance, DeMille added another layer of subtextual engineering by simultaneously crafting him as an OT Moses-figure which was skilfully interleaved with his other textual and subtextual constructions of Samson (and related others); thus making Samson and Delilah an even greater masterpiece of biblical filmmaking.

DeMille’s Samson as a Moses-figure and Beyond

In addition to increasing Samson’s holiness quotient for Jesus-loving Christians, this additional character construction would jibe with his Jewish audiences, bosses and backers; all of whom would be more inclined emotionally to accept Samson as God’s agent (despite his many earthly weaknesses) if he resonated with another great man of the Bible—Moses, the ultimate Jewish hero. Therefore, Christians could respond to the subtextual Jesus (the patriarch of the Christian faith) whilst the Jews could respond to the subtextual Moses (the patriarch of the Jewish faith). In effect, DeMille-the-multi-level-marketeer adopted another holiness-by-association tactic and deftly engineered parallels between the OT Samson and Moses. For example, the scriptural, Midian-living Moses is a legitimate shepherd (Exod. 3:1), as was DeMille’s Samson (albeit, not scripturally stated). In fact, DeMille’s Moses (Charlton Heston) held a lamb in a famous PR pose for The Ten Commandments (see Heston & Isbouts 1998, 67), just as lambs were featured in DeMille’s The King of Kings and Samson and Delilah. The scriptural Moses was characterised as the God-appointed deliverer of his people (Exod. 3:1-15), as was the God-appointed scriptural Samson who “shall begin to deliver Israel out of the hands of the Philistines” (Judg. 13:5) in his “role as savior of his people” (Matthews 2004, 142).

At the Zorah village water-well, DeMille’s old Story Teller (Francis J. McDonald), along with the enthusiastic help of young Saul (Russell Tamblyn), spoke of Moses and Pharaoh, the Red Sea and the Exodus, and then associated it with their future deliverance from Philistine domination via the strong arm of Samson (Victor Mature). DeMille thus linked the oppressive exilic Pharaoh of Egypt (Exod. 3-16) with the oppressive Saran of Gaza (George Sanders), one of the lords of the Philistines (Judg. 16:5). The retelling of the Moses saga at the beginning of Samson and Delilah is theologically odd because the Book of Judges started with the death of Joshua (Judg. 1:1) and told the story of Samson’s eleven fellow judges (ending with Samson—Judg. 16:31). The Moses saga was not even in the immediate scriptural ballpark. However, the Exodus story was the most profound scriptural example of freedom-flavoured liberation politics (which aligned with DeMille’s own political arch-conservatism) that added layers of subtextual meaning to Samson and Delilah, albeit, politically flavoured religion this time.

DeMille gave his Samson storyline a very strong Moses resonance because the children of Israel were under domination of the Philistines (Judg. 13:1), which DeMille-the-narrator recounted in the film’s prologue. Samson’s Israelites were akin to Moses’ people under the domination of the Egyptians (and which DeMille had eagerly recounted in his personal curtain-call prologue to the second The Ten Commandments). This freedom-flavoured focus in his 1949 Samson and Delilah was possibly also employed as a marketing device for DeMille’s yet-to-come 1956 Moses movie, especially considering that “DeMille always had three or four projects going at once” (Wilcoxon & Orrison 1991, 45). These parallelisms allowed the Samson and Delilah audience to make the mental equation: “If the Saran of Gaza equals Pharaoh then Samson must equal Moses.” Doing so had unique advantages for DeMille.

The majority of the Samson saga (Judg. 14-16), except for the divine precursory events of his birth (Judg. 13), is oddly deficient in actual Danite/Hebrew/Israelite “religious” content (e.g., sacred rituals, places, servants, events or items). Samson was a judge-leader, and yet, there are no accounts of him doing anything particularly religious in accordance with his special status as a divinely-chosen, God-commissioned judge. Instead, Samson exhibited mundane human foibles such as sleeping with harlots (Judg. 16:1), pride-induced boasting (Judg. 15:16), tit-for-tat revenge rampages in “his private one-man guerrilla war on the Philistines” (Wurtzel 1998, 65), throwing temper tantrums (for anti-State and antisocial reasons), and acting as “a nomadic troublemaker” (Wurtzel 1998, 47). The omission of any recorded (or implied) ritualistic life is not conducive to viewing him as God’s holy agent who actively “judged Israel twenty years” (Judg. 16:31), in fact, Samson “never claimed to be a judge” (Miller & Miller 1960, 641), presumably because even he knew that he failed to act like one. However, like biblical scholars everywhere, DeMille had to refer to Samson’s judge status, albeit surreptitiously, as in the rustic kitchen scene when his mother (Fay Holden) is berating him and called him the “leader of Dan” and the “chosen judge of your people,” or via Ahtur’s (Henry Wilcoxon’s) comment about Samson being “a judge of shepherds.”

Nevertheless, Samson’s human failing (i.e., murderous rage against Philistines—Judg. 14:19) paralleled Moses’ human failing (i.e., murderous rage against an Egyptian—Exod. 2:11-12). Both men were agents of God who were severely humbled: Samson became a Philistine fugitive (Judg. 15:3-8) and worked as a sightless, bound mill slave (Judg. 16:21), whilst Moses became a royal refugee (Exod. 2:15) and worked as a shepherd (Exod. 3:1). Both men suffered because of their personal weaknesses (Samson was blinded—Judg. 16:21; Moses lost his royal position in Pharaoh’s household—Exod. 2:10-15). Both men did not profit from their immense efforts on God’s behalf (Samson died a crushing death—Judg. 16:30; Moses reached the Promised Land but was not allowed to enter and then died—Deut. 34:4-5). Yet, both achieved their God-given goals in helping free their respective peoples from their respective oppressors (Philistine and Egyptian), Samson less successfully than Moses, but still in accordance with the divine plan.

By forging intertextual biblical linkages and crafting sacred subtexts, DeMille was effectively performing the equivalent of the ultra-aesthetic, thematic linking game played by the Castalian seminarians in Hermann Hesse’s novel, The Glass Bead Game (aka Magister Ludi). Of course, DeMille-the-Christian-apologist did not limit his sacred character construction to just Samson. He also gave similar artistic attention to others including cameo characters. For example, he designed his fictional Story Teller (Francis J. McDonald) as a John the Baptist-figure (Kozlovic 2006c) to help identify Samson as a Christ-figure (Kozlovic 2003) and artfully introduce the Moses-Samson political parallels. DeMille also enhanced the motherliness of Manoah’s wife (Kozlovic 2006a) and subtextually constructed Delilah as a whore of Babylon-figure (Kozlovic 2002a) plus a Devil-figure to enhance her negativity and enemy Other status (Kozlovic 2006b). These character enhancements also counter-balanced each other and increased their essential differences regarding status, purpose and potential, which in turn enhanced the dramatic contrast between “good” and “evil.”

Furthermore, as part of his artistic arsenal, DeMille also provided audiovisual justifications for Samson’s phenomenal strength that mitigated potential incredulity problems due to the fantastical nature of the scriptural accounts and even more improbable Christian historical accretions thereafter (Kozlovic 2007). In short, DeMille-the-Christian-true-believer made Samson-the-unbelievable, believable, loveable and laughable, a fool and a hero, scripturally authentic and dramatically plausible, full of comedy and pathos, sexuality and saintliness, which believers and non-believers, men and women, adults and children could all safely experience and vicariously enjoy. No wonder Samson and Delilah was considered “DeMille’s grandest biblical epic” (Moses 1999, 411).


DeMille’s aesthetic practise of using multiple overlapping layers of sacred subtexts to enhance the drama, sacredness and credulity of his biblical storytelling is a feature frequently missing from factual evaluations of his Hollywood career. Not only is DeMille “a great, great story teller” (Long 2001, 27) but J. Stephen Lang (2007, 292) argued that: “Samson and Delilah… (dare we say this?) improve[d] on the biblical material with a deeper spirituality. The story of Samson in Judges is hardly inspiring, yet the film…applied the deep spirituality of the entire Bible to certain stories that, by themselves, were not spiritually rich.” Creatively employing sacred subtexts helped DeMille do this magnificently. Overall, as studio boss David O. Selznick neatly summed up Cecil to fellow studio boss Louis B. Mayer:

However much I may dislike some of his pictures from an audience standpoint, it would be very silly of me, as a producer of commercial motion pictures, to demean for an instant his unparalleled skill as a maker of mass entertainment, or the knowing and sure hand with which he manufactures his successful assaults upon a world audience that is increasingly indifferent if not immune to the work of his inferiors. As both professionally and personally he has in many ways demonstrated himself to be a man of sensitivity and taste, it is impossible to believe that the blatancy of his style is due to anything but a most artful and deliberate and knowing technique of appeal to the common denominator of public taste. He must be saluted by any but hypocritical or envious members of the picture business. But there has appeared only one Cecil B. DeMille (Behlmer 1972, 400).

This assessment still holds true today and even more so given the many DeMillean cinematic secrets recently discovered, and the many more still waiting to be revealed. Further research into DeMille studies and his impact upon Hollywood history, American culture and the emerging interdisciplinary field of religion-and-film (aka sacred cinema, spiritual cinema, holy film, cinematic theology, cinematheology, theo-film, celluloid religion, film-and-faith, film-faith dialogue) are warranted, warmly recommended and already long overdue.


1 Many scholars have spelled Cecil’s surname as “De Mille” or “de Mille” or “deMille” however, the correct professional spelling is “DeMille” (DeMille & Hayne 1960, 6).

2 The Authorized King James Version of the Bible (KJV aka AV) will be used throughout, unless quoting other translations, because most of the biblical phrases that are embedded in Western culture are from it. Not only is it one of the most widely used English translation today (Taylor 1992, ix, 71), but it was also one of DeMille’s personal favourites (Higashi 1994, 180).

3 There is not one DeMille but many DeMille personas that did numerous jobs and played multiple roles. His career was so long, complex and multi-faceted that to describe, let alone justify each aspect would be prohibitive; indeed: “It is impossible to describe the career of Cecil B. DeMille in a few words. A whole book is needed” (Kardish 1972, 133). Therefore, concise hyphenated compound terms will be used herein to help disentangle his various roles and avoid needless explanation, repetition or reader boredom.

Works cited

  • Ackerman, S. (2000). “What if Judges had been written by a Philistine?” Biblical Interpretation, 8(1-2), 33-41.
  • Arthur, A. (1970). “DeMille: Man and myth.” In G. Essoe & R. Lee, DeMille: The man and his pictures (283-288). New York: Castle Books.
  • Bartholome, L. G. (1990). Samson: Hero, Martyr, or Fool? An Interdisciplinary Study. Ph.D. dissertation, The Florida State University.
  • Beck, B. (2005). “Has anybody here seen my old friend Jesus?: Christian movies in a Christian country.” Multicultural Perspectives, 7(1), 26-29.
  • Behlmer, R. (Ed.). (1972). Memo from David O. Selznick. New York: The Viking Press.
  • Bellis, A. O. (1994). Helpmates, harlots, and heroes: Women’s stories in the Hebrew Bible. Louisville, KY: Westminster/John Knox Press.
  • Birchard, R. S. (2004). Cecil B. DeMille’s Hollywood. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky.
  • Bledstein, A. J. (1993). “Is Judges a woman’s satire of men who play god?” In A. Brenner (Ed.), A feminist companion to Judges (34-54). Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press.
  • Brode, D. (1995). The films of Steven Spielberg. New York, NY: Citadel Press.
  • Butler, I. (1987). Silent magic: Rediscovering the silent film era. London: Columbus Books.
  • Bywater, T., & Sobchack, T. (1989). An introduction to film criticism: Major critical approaches to narrative film. New York: Longman.
  • Cherchi Usai, P., & Codelli, L. (Eds.). (1991). The DeMille Legacy. Pordenone: Le Giornate del Cinema Muto/Edizioni Biblioteca dell’Immagine.
  • DeMille, C. B., & Hayne, D. (Ed.). (1960). The autobiography of Cecil B. DeMille. London: W. H. Allen.
  • Dick, B. F. (1998). Anatomy of film (3rd ed.). New York: St. Martin’s Press.
  • Edwards, A. (1988). The DeMilles: An American family. London: Collins.
  • Eldridge, D. (2006). Hollywood’s history films. London: I. B. Tauris.
  • Ellis, R. (2001). “Movies and meaning.” The Expository Times, 112(9), 304-308.
  • Essoe, G., & Lee, R. (1970). DeMille: The man and his pictures. New York: Castle Books.
  • Exum, J. C. (1996). Plotted, shot, and painted: Cultural representations of biblical women. Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press.
  • Exum, J. C. (2002). “Lethal woman 2: Reflections on Delilah and her incarnation as Liz Hurley.” In M. O’Kane (Ed.), Borders, boundaries and the Bible (254-273). London: Sheffield Academic Press.
  • Eyles, A. (1967). The western: An illustrated guide. New York: A. S. Barnes.
  • Finler, J. W. (1985). The movie directors story. London: Octopus Books.
  • Gallagher, M. P. (1997). “Theology, discernment and cinema.” In J. R. May (Ed.), New image of religious film (151-160). Kansas City: Sheed & Ward.
  • Geoghegan, J., & Homan, M. (2003). The Bible for dummies. New York, NY: Wiley.
  • Giannetti, L., & Eyman, S. (1996). Flashback: A brief history of film (3rd ed.). Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.
  • Green, J. (1997). Dictionary of insulting quotations. London: Cassell.
  • Harcourt-Smith, S. (1951). “The Siegfried of sex: Thoughts inspired by Cecil B. de Mille’s “Samson and Delilah“.” Sight and Sound, 19(10), 410-412, 424.
  • Heston, C., & Isbouts, J.-P. (1998). Charlton Heston’s Hollywood: 50 years in American film. New York: G T Publishing.
  • Higashi, S. (1985). Cecil B. DeMille: A guide to references and resources. Boston, MA: G. K. Hall & Co.
  • Higashi, S. (1994). Cecil B. DeMille and American culture: The silent era. Berkeley: University of California Press.
  • Higgs, L. C. (2000). Bad Girls of the Bible and What We Can Learn from Them. Sydney: Strand.
  • Higham, C. (1973). Cecil B. DeMille. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons.
  • Holloway, R. (1977). Beyond the image: Approaches to the religious dimension in the cinema. Geneva: World Council of Churches.
  • Jacobs, D. (1992). Christmas in July: The life and art of Preston Sturges. Berkeley: University of California Press.
  • Jasper, D. (1999). “Literary readings of the Bible: Trends in modern criticism.” In D. Jasper, S. Prickett & A. Hass (Eds.), The Bible and literature: A reader (44-64). Oxford: Blackwell.
  • Jost, R. (1999). “God of love/God of vengeance, or Samson’s ‘prayer for vengeance.’” In A. Brenner (Ed.), A feminist companion to Judges (Second series) (117-125). Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press.
  • Kardish, L. (1972). Reel plastic magic: A history of films and filmmaking in America. Boston: Little, Brown.
  • Koury, P. A. (1959). Yes, Mr. De Mille. New York: Putnam.
  • Kozlovic, A. K. (2002a). “The whore of Babylon, suggestibility, and the art of sexless sex in Cecil B. DeMille’s Samson and Delilah (1949).” In D. S. Claussen (Ed.), Sex, Religion, Media (21-31). Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield.
  • Kozlovic, A. K. (2002b). “Hedy Lamarr and the deep focus characterisation of Delilah in Samson and Delilah (1949): A Cecil B. DeMille ‘rule of analogy.’” Organdi Quarterly, 4, 1-25.
    http://www.geocities.com/organdi_revue/April2002/Kozlovic02.htm (dead link).
  • Kozlovic, A. K. (2003). “Have lamb will martyr: Samson as a rustic Christ-figure in Cecil B. DeMille’s Samson and Delilah (1949).” Reconstruction: Studies in Contemporary Culture, 3(1), 1-23.
  • Kozlovic, A. K. (2004). “The structural characteristics of the cinematic Christ-figure.” Journal of Religion and Popular Culture, 8, 1-54.
  • Kozlovic, A. K. (2006a). “Constructing the motherliness of Manoah’s wife in Cecil B. DeMille’s Samson and Delilah (1949).” Women in Judaism: A Multidisciplinary Journal, 4(1), 1-20.
  • Kozlovic, A. K. (2006b). “Making a “bad” woman wicked: The devilish construction of Delilah within Cecil B. DeMille’s Samson and Delilah (1949).” McMaster Journal of Theology and Ministry, 7, 70-102.
  • Kozlovic, A. K. (2006c). “The old story teller as a John the Baptist-figure in DeMille’s Samson and Delilah.” CLCWeb: Comparative Literature and Culture: A WWWeb Journal, 8(3), 1-10.
  • Kozlovic, A. K. (2007). “Creating the cinematic illusion of Samson’s phenomenal strength in Cecil B. DeMille’s Samson and Delilah (1949).” Belphegor: Popular Literature and Media Culture, 6(2), 1-37.
  • Kozlovic, A. K. (2008). “The subtle varieties of pain engineered into Cecil B. DeMille’s Samson and Delilah (1949).” Velox: Critical Approaches to Contemporary Film, 2(1), 21-43.
  • Lang, J. S. (2007). The Bible on the big screen: A guide from silent films to today’s movies. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.
  • Leneman, H. (2000). “Portrayals of power in the stories of Delilah and Bathsheba: Seduction in song.” In G. Aichele (Ed.), Culture, entertainment and the Bible (139-155). Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press.
  • Long, R. E. (Ed.). (2001). George Cukor interviews. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi.
  • Louvish, S. (2008). Cecil B. DeMille: A life in art. New York: Thomas Dunne Books/St. Martin’s Press.
  • Manchel, F. (1971). When pictures began to move. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.
  • Manfull, H. (Ed.). (1970). Additional dialogue: Letters of Dalton Trumbo, 1942-1962. New York: Evans.
  • Matthews, V. H. (2004). Judges and Ruth. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.
  • McCann, J. C. (2002). Judges. Louisville, KY: John Knox Press.
  • Miller, M. S., & Miller, J. L. (1960). Black’s Bible dictionary (2nd ed.). London: Adam and Charles Black.
  • Mobley, G. (2005). The empty men: The heroic tradition of ancient Israel. New York: Doubleday.
  • Moses, R. (Ed.). (1999). American Movie Classics classic movie companion. New York: Hyperion.
  • Murphy, C. (1999). The word according to Eve: Women and the Bible in ancient times and our own. London: Allen Lane/The Penguin Press.
  • Noerdlinger, H. S. (1956). Moses and Egypt: The documentation to the motion picture The Ten Commandments. Los Angeles: University of Southern California Press.
  • Norman, B. (1985). The film greats. London: Hodder and Stoughton/British Broadcasting Corporation.
  • Orrison, K. (1999). Written in stone: Making Cecil B. DeMille’s epic, The Ten Commandments. Lanham: Vestal Press.
  • Ringgold, G., & Bodeen, D. (1969). The complete films of Cecil B. DeMille. Secaucus, NJ: The Citadel Press.
  • Ryan, R. (2007). Judges. Sheffield: Sheffield Phoenix Press.
  • Schatz, T. (1997). History of the American cinema. 6. Boom and bust: The American cinema in the 1940s. New York: Simon and Schuster Macmillan.
  • Simon, U. (1981). “Samson and the heroic.” In M. Wadsworth (Ed.), Ways of reading the Bible (154-167). Sussex: The Harvester Press.
  • Smoodin, E. (2000). “Cecil B. De Mille.” In T. Pendergast & S. Pendergast (Eds.), International dictionary of films and filmmakers – 2. Directors (4th ed.) (248-251). Detroit: St. James Press.
  • Solomon, J. (2001). The ancient world in the cinema (rev. ed.). New Haven: Yale University Press.
  • Streete, G. C. (1997). The strange woman: Power and sex in the Bible. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press.
  • Taylor, M. D. (1992). The complete book of Bible literacy. Wheaton, IL: Tyndale.
  • Thomson, D. (1995). A Biographical Dictionary of film (3rd ed.). New York: Alfred A. Knopf.
  • Trent, P. (1975). Those fabulous movie years: The 30s. Barre, MA: Barre Publishing.
  • Vickery, J. B. (1981). “In strange ways: The story of Samson.” In B. O. Long (Ed.), Images of man and God: Old Testament short stories in literary focus (58-73, 119). Sheffield: The Almond Press.
  • Vidal, G. (1995). Palimpsest: A memoir. London: Andre Deutsch.
  • Welsh, J. M. (2004). “C. B. DeMille: 70 annotated films,” Literature/Film Quarterly, 32(4), 317-318.
  • Wexman, V. W. (2006). A history of film (6th ed.). Boston: Pearson/A and B.
  • Wilcoxon, H., & Orrison, K. (1991). Lionheart in Hollywood: The autobiography of Henry Wilcoxon. Metuchen, NJ: The Scarecrow Press.
  • Williams, M. E. (Ed.). (1993). The storyteller’s companion to the Bible (Vol. 3). Nashville: Abingdon Press.
  • Wurtzel, E. (1998). Bitch: In praise of difficult women. New York: Doubleday.


  • Samson and Delilah (1949, dir. Cecil B. DeMille)
  • The King of Kings (1927, dir. Cecil B. DeMille)
  • The Ten Commandments (1923, dir. Cecil B. DeMille)
  • The Ten Commandments (1956, dir. Cecil B. DeMille)